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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Director of Spokane County Public Defender’s Office Tom Krzyminski retires

Longtime public defender Tom Krzyminski is retiring this week. He has been at the office since the early ’90s and in charge for the past eight years. Here he takes time to reflect on his career from his office Thursday.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Longtime public defender Tom Krzyminski is retiring this week. He has been at the office since the early ’90s and in charge for the past eight years. Here he takes time to reflect on his career from his office Thursday. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

After nearly three decades of defending clients who couldn’t afford an attorney, Tom Krzyminski retired Friday.

Krzyminski, 60, was hired at the Spokane County Public Defender’s office in 1990 before he moved to the Council for Defense, an office that takes clients who have a conflict of interest with the public defender’s office, in 1997.

His drive to become an attorney started much earlier as a kid growing up in Chicago. His brother, James Krzyminski, was 20 years older and went to law school when Tom Krzyminski was a child. Krzyminski looked up to his older brother as a role model and, after spending a few summers in Washington, D.C., living with him, Tom Krzyminski decided to become a lawyer too.

Krzyminski went to law school at Marquette University in Wisconsin before joining the Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. After two years of active duty he transitioned to the Army National Guard, and he moved to Spokane and applied to positions at both the prosecutor’s office and the public defender’s office.

When he interviewed at the public defender’s office he “instantly” enjoyed the office and the camaraderie of the attorneys, he said.

He spent his early years at the office working for the “iconic” first director of the office, Dick Cease.

What Krzyminski remembers most throughout his career are the legal battles that go on with prosecutors in the courtroom, he said.

“A lot of it is kind of like a chess game,” Krzyminski said. “They’re watching your moves, you’re watching their moves and you’re trying to react and, you know, at the same time, present the best possible defense for your client.”

Often defense attorneys are the only people supporting their client in the courtroom, he said.

“It’s never really the wins or the losses,” Krzyminski said. “It’s how you were able to tell your client’s story so that they walked out of the courtroom, maybe not happy, but they felt like you worked hard for them.”

Krzyminski transitioned to the Air National Guard so his training would be closer to Spokane. In 2008, he served a 16-month deployment to Washington, D.C., where he led a team representing a Guantanamo Bay detainee.

He found he enjoyed supervising a group of attorneys and support staff, so when an opportunity arose to lead the Council for Defense he took it. In 2013, he became the fourth director of the public defender’s office since it was founded 51 years ago.

One of the things he is most proud of is getting a text-messaging service up and running so the office’s clients could get reminders about their court dates, Krzyminski said.

“I think that was a significant step for our clients,” he said.

Krzyminski’s leadership wasn’t without controversy. The most significant criticism came from a former public defender who accused Krzyminski in a 2016 lawsuit of discrimination because she was allegedly passed over for a promotion due to her pregnancy. She also accused Krzyminski of creating a hostile work environment. That lawsuit was later settled before trial.

Looking back, Krzyminski said, the controversy was a learning experience.

“Challenges, I think, make us better,” he said. “And it influences our decisions down the road.”

He notes he was selected again for the position after the lawsuit, which Krzyminski said was a vote of confidence from the Spokane County commissioners.

After retiring from the military in 2016, Krzyminski said this year felt like the right time to retire from the pressures of an all-consuming job.

“A public defender career is very difficult,” he said. “It’s the type of job that stays with you 24/7.”

The county has posted the position and hasn’t had many applicants, according to county spokesman Jared Webley, who encouraged attorneys to apply.

Krzyminski said that while difficult, the job is extremely rewarding. One of his favorites aspects has been hiring attorneys just out of law school and giving them their start in the field.

As he looks to retirement, Krzyminski plans to spend more time with his three grandchildren and traveling.

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